Monday, January 01, 2007

Horticulture: honing in on loose lead

I made exactly one New Year’s Resolution and here I am breaking it on New Year’s Day. How’s that for will power?

I resolved to be less pedantic, less critical, less petty—in short, less of a curmudgeon. Well, fuhgeddaboudit!

The newspaper of record, in yesterday’s Week in Review, printed the following sentence: “Juhu Thukral…noted that the England killings have lead to a national discussion there.…”

Yes, it’s just a simple typo and simple copyreading error. No, it’s nothing to get excited about. Yes, it can happen at the Times as easily as anywhere else. No, this isn’t really important.

But this is one of three specific errors that I keep seeing, everywhere I look, perpetrated by literate, intelligent people, that make me nuts. I am going to list them here, and I hope that your New Year’s Resolution is to avoid these three errors for the remainder of the year, regardless of what other silly mistakes you may make:
  1. When you lose something, it is lost. When you loose something, you set it free. See the difference? Lose has a z sound at the end. Loose has an s sound at the end. Got it?
  2. You hone a knife to put a sharp edge on it. You home in on a target, like a homing pigeon. Two different words. Got it?
  3. Lead (pronounced led) is a high-specific-gravity metal used in automotive batteries and for shielding us from stray radiation. The past tense of the verb to lead (pronounced lede) is led (sounds just like the metal). The first paragraph of a story is a lede, intentionally misspelled that way to avoid any possibility of confusion with the editor’s instruction to lead out the paragraph with thin strips of the metal lead, in the days of hot metal composition. Is this confusing? Perhaps. But, in immortal words, “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”
Happy New Year!

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